Initiative drive seeks to halt state budget raids
Volunteers statewide are working on a petition to get an initiative on the November ballot that would prohibit the state government from taking local revenue from local governments without a public vote.
The petition to put the 2004 Local Taxpayers and Public Safety Protection Act on the November ballot needs 598,103 signatures by mid-April to be valid, a task that Truckee volunteers and other volunteers around the state are working toward.
“What this would do would be to create a stable source of revenue for cities and require a vote to take local tax money,” said Alex Terrazas, assistant to the Truckee town manager.
The need for the initiative has arisen “because of the current state fiscal crisis and the history of legislators turning to cities to solve the state crisis,” Terrazas said.
Megan Taylor, spokeswoman for the League of California Cities – one of the groups that initiated the petition – said the state is projected to take $5.2 billion from local revenue this year, and the governor’s proposal may hike that up to $6.5 billion.
“For well over 10 years the state has been taking money away from local governments,” Taylor said. “They’ve continued to drain that money away from local governments until it has totaled about $44 billion. We’re not trying to stop the drain, we’re just saying that they cannot take any more.”
The practice of taking local money to solve state financial hardships has affected parks, libraries, and law enforcement departments. City parks statewide have seen a 21 percent decrease in funds and local library funds have fallen 13 percent because of the problem, said Taylor.
“What we’ve seen is they love this money. It doesn’t matter if it is good fiscal times or bad fiscal times,” Taylor said. “It just robs a community of money it needs to protect its quality of life.”
Taylor clarifies that the act would not prohibit state government from taking this money, it would just require a simple majority vote by the public to allow the state to take more than the rate of revenue it already takes. Effected local revenue comes from vehicle license fees, sales tax and property tax. As the state takes more and more of this money, it translates into service cutbacks at the local level, or local fee hikes, said Taylor.
A successful passage of the act would allow local agencies to make long-term plans based on a stable revenue source.
Truckee Fire Chief Mike Terwilliger said that not knowing when 20 percent of the department’s money might be rerouted to the state, makes hiring and planning a challenge.
“In essence the state can now take 20 percent of the fire budget and give it to someone else,” Terwilliger said. “If I lose 20 percent of my budget, that means a closed fire station.”
Terwilliger said that California needs to solve its own problems, without looking to local money for a bailout.
“The state of California, in many cases, has done nothing to cut. What they are doing is not filling positions, but keeping those positions open,” he said. “The state needs to take care of the state.”
The list of endorsers of the initiative includes fire and police associations across the state, several counties, about 200 cities (including the town of Truckee) and many other organizations.
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